Migrant city tent in Matamoros, bordering Brownsville, TX (photo: Leidy Perez-Davis)
Border communities are a model of charity and hospitality.
For the past year and a half, as the number of Central American migrants arriving at the US/MX border has increased, communities like El Paso, TX and San Diego, CA have welcomed them with open arms. There are dozens of shelters and hundreds of volunteers accompanying these families along their journey, providing them with humanitarian relief and responding to their psychology traumas.
Columbans have been a part of this effort. Inspired by the Gospel imperative to welcome migrants, since 2014 we have opened up the Columban Mission Center as a house of hospitality for incoming migrants as well as long-term volunteers.
Over the past few months though, the shelters have been almost empty.
And it’s not because people have stopped fleeing from poverty and violence in the search for a safe and prosperous life. Instead, it’s because the United States government is now forcing people to wait in Mexico while their asylum claim goes through the immigration court process.
The President and his administration are doing all they can to limit access to life-saving protections (such as asylum) by building a physical wall and also a policy wall.
One of the most prevalent policies in this strategy is the “Remain in Mexico” policy, officially known as the “Migrant Protection Protocols.”
In January 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began the “Remain in Mexico” policy. Under the policy, the US government forces non-Mexican asylum seekers – including families and children – to wait in Mexico while their immigration court proceedings move forward in the United States. This process can take many months!
Before this policy, asylum seekers had been able to remain in the United States while they wait for their asylum cases to be resolved in court. This allows them to reunite with their families and connect with service providers like lawyers and doctors.
But now, as of publication, the US government is denying an estimated 60,000 people access to due process, safety, and community support by forcing them into limbo in Mexico.
The Catholic Church recognizes that people have the right to migrate to build a better life for them and their families if they cannot do so in their country of origin. The migrant’s story reminds us of a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching: that the goods of the earth belong to all people. It is never God’s will that some of God’s children live in luxury while others have nothing (cf. Caritas in Veritate, #21).
The “Remain in Mexico” policy is a direct assault on this sacred right. The government has implemented it specifically to make it as difficult as possible for people to access life-saving protections.
Forcing people to wait in Mexico is extremely dangerous. Many migrants do not have a place to stay, so they sleep on the streets. Many children go without education or adequate medical care. Many migrants waiting in Mexico – especially women – have been kidnapped, trafficked, extorted, and sexual assaulted.
Even the United States government admits that these Mexican border cities are unsafe, issuing travel warnings for these areas.
Columbans living in Mexico are working non-stop with many volunteers to address this manufactured humanitarian crisis. They are coordinating safe shelters, transportation to hearings, and livelihood projects for migrants. They are also providing emotional and spiritual support to families as they navigate a volatile and uncertain future.
Although the president and his administration initiated this policy, Congress has the ability to stop it!
Congress has “the power of the purse” and can refuse to give money to DHS for the implementation of the policy. Already, DHS has taken money from other government agencies to fund its policies.
Congress is in the process of deciding how to fund the federal government in 2020. Congress should “defund” the Remain in Mexico policy so that no more families and children are subjected to it.
You can write to your Members of Congress today to let them know you oppose this policy! Click here to send them a message.
To learn about more ways you can support our migrant sisters and brothers, download our Border Solidarity Toolkit, which includes a number of activities for prayer, education, and action.
The US government is currently denying 60,000 migrants the opportunity to live a safe and prosperous life. Imagine if you were one of those migrants. Imagine if you were forced to migrate because staying at home was more dangerous than leaving.
As people of faith, we have a sacred duty to welcome migrants into our homes as if they were Jesus Himself. We are called to love migrants, because we were once migrants too (cf. Leviticus 24: 22)
*Editor's Note: Download our Border Solidarity Toolkit for a curated list of resources and activities that will help you learn more about US/MX border communities and how you can support them through prayer, education, and action.
Copyright © 2020 Columban Center for Advocacy and Outreach, Washington, D.C.